From sea lions and elephants to snow leopards and even stingrays, the Oklahoma City Zoo has equipped a veritable menagerie of its inhabitants who have become painters over the years.
On Friday – which is International Orangutan Day – the zoo is offering at international auction what is believed to be the world’s first non-fungible digital art token designed by an orangutan – and possibly even the first NFT by an animal.
“It’s a way to connect with people around the world, maybe spark an interest in wildlife and learn more about that particular species, and then dive a little deeper and learn more about d ‘other species they can help,’ Candice Rennels, director of public relations for the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, told The Oklahoman.
“The NFT world itself is just a whole new audience of collectors who may not even know that animals have these abilities and can paint.”
What are NFTs and why does OKC Zoo sell them?
An NFT is basically a piece of data that verifies your ownership of a digital item, from a piece of art to a clip of an NBA star’s game-winning shot.
While fungible items are easily interchangeable – for example, if two people each have a $20 bill, they could exchange them without any change in value – non-fungible tokens are singular and cannot be directly exchanged for one another. These are digital assets that mean unique collectibles which cannot be copied or replaced, and they are usually bought and sold with cryptocurrency.
Since the appearance of NFTs in 2014, interest in them has grown rapidly, especially in the art world. Last year, the first purely digital work of art offered by a major auction house – “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”, a collage of digital images created by South Carolina artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple — sold for over $69 million at an online auction by Christie’s.
Oklahoma City Zoo employees hope the uniqueness of an orangutan-created digital art NFT will generate a lot of interest and fetch a major prize for a good cause – conservation efforts on behalf of the great. monkeys.
Get to know Elok, Orangutan and OKC Zoo Artist
A Sumatran orangutan, Elok, 21, has lived at the Oklahoma City Zoo since 2008, and he’s become quite the painter over the years.
“He’s very curious. He’s very interactive. … So if he can be interactive with his environment, and he can be interactive with his keepers, that’s the best form of enrichment for him. So the painting ticks both of those boxes,” said Tracey Dolphin, the zoo’s primate curator.
“He can actually physically manipulate something, a paintbrush, he can look at colors when he’s painting, and he can manipulate the canvas. … And then the third element is that he actually gets a reward – his reinforcement is his en- favorite case – so I’d say painting is absolutely one of his favorite enrichment activities.”
Part of the line of enrichment programs developed by Creature Keepers, painting is an optional activity offered periodically to many animals at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Each species creates works of art with non-toxic paint using techniques specific to their natural behaviors and bodies: While some animals hold brushes in their paws or mouths, others apply paint directly to canvas with their trunk, muzzle or whole body.
“We can’t get them in fast enough,” Rennels said. “Honestly, it was the community that developed this program. … It’s really become a success and it’s a really good fundraising model for us here.”
A curious monkey has the chance to become a digital artist
Known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans are intelligent monkeys native to the rainforests of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In the wild, they spend most of their lives in trees, so they are quite agile.
When Becky Scheel and Mathieu Kuhne, the Megafauna Studios design team, contacted the zoo to propose a new form of digital enrichment, Elok was naturally selected to become the zoo’s first digital artist.
“With his personality, how inquisitive he is, how much he enjoys cognitive challenges – when we present him with something new, he’s not necessarily going to get frustrated and walk away. He’s going to try to figure out what we want. And he’s just very personable and very interactive with our caregivers, so we knew he would be the perfect fit,” Dolphin said.
Instead of a traditional paint and canvas, Elok was given a 2ft digital brush to go with the 3ft by 4ft screen just beyond his indoor habitat. When the orangutan moved the digital brush, a motion-sensing device made from a modified Xbox captured the movement and projected the drawing onto the digital screen. The finished creative product and the act of creation have been recorded.
“When we do the normal painting, there’s a connection. He can see it, he understands it. So there was a learning curve in understanding what we were asking him to do and how we can make that connection. . It was a steep learning curve . … He got it pretty quickly,” Dolphin said.
Of course, serving his favorite snacks — popcorn, prunes and animal crackers — made the process easier.
How can people buy Elok’s digital art NFTs?
One of the NFTs will be auctioned between Friday noon and Monday noon. The other will be on sale during these three days at the fixed price of three Ethereum, a type of cryptocurrency whose dollar value varies depending on the market.
“We also learn with that,” Rennels said. “We’ll start with both this weekend…and we’ll just see how the interest evolves.”
Since Elok designed the zoo’s first digital art NFTs, proceeds from their sale will go to a conservation organization working to help orangutans in North Sumatra.
“There are three species of orangutans, and they are all critically endangered, mainly due to habitat loss due to various human activities. … There is the conversion of their habitat for l agriculture – especially for the production of palm oil – and there are roads being built in these areas to bring products like palm oil to market. logging and illegal hunting that occurs in these areas,” said Rebecca Snyder, director of conservation science at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
“We thought it was a great connection to have Elok creating art that could then help his wild counterparts.”
For more information, visit www.okczoo.org/nft.
INTERNATIONAL ORANGUTAN DAY AT OKC ZOO
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden will celebrate International Orangutan Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday with activities including an interactive children’s handout with prizes, animal and conservation information stations , discussions with the guardians, Facebook Live videos and thematic photo sessions.
The zoo is home to two Sumatran orangutans, a male, Elok, 21, and a female, Negara, 28.
For more information, visit okczoo.org.